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IRAQ: Thousands return home as violence drops, government says
The Iraqi government says because of a drop in sectarian violence in the country, thousands of displaced people are returning home
BAGHDAD, 4 November 2007 (IRIN) - No major sectarian-related displacement of people has occurred over the past three months as violence between Sunnis and Shias is ebbing in this war-battered country, the Iraqi Ministry of Displacement and Migration said on 3 November.
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"We did not register any large-scale displacement nationwide over the past three months that related to sectarian violence except for a few individual cases in some areas of Baghdad and other provinces," Sattar Nawroz, spokesman for the ministry, said.
According to Nawroz, since mid-2007 nearly 3,100 families (about 15,500 individuals) returned to their homes in different areas of the capital, Baghdad. The ministry, which was founded after the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003, attributed the return of such internally displaced persons (IDPs) to what it says is the success of the joint US-Iraqi security plan in Baghdad, which was launched in February.
"But this doesn't mean that the security of these families is related only to the presence of troops in their neighborhoods as local councils, which are led by chieftains and dignitaries, will keep protecting them after the troops pull out," he added, referring to the tribal "Awakening Councils" which have been formed to fight Sunni and Shia extremists.
Sectarian violence between the country's two major Islamic sects took a dramatic turn for the worse after the bombing of a revered Shia shrine in February 2006. The attack against al-Askariyah shrine in Samarra, about 100km north of Baghdad, was carried out by what many believe was a Sunni extremist group. The attack was repeated in early 2007. Statistics argument
As with the overall Iraqi civilian death toll since 2003, there are varying estimates of how many IDPs there actually are in the country.
According to the government, nearly 140,000 families (about 700,000 individuals) have been displaced since the Samarra incident in February 2006. Nawroz acknowledged, however, that the ministry has no offices in the three provinces of the semiautonomous region of Kurdistan and it does not control all the displacement camps in Iraq.
However, in September the International Organization for Migration (IOM) said there were just over a million Iraqis displaced since February 2006. Combined with the 1.2 million people already displaced before the Samarra incident, the IOM says a total of 2.25 million Iraqis are internally displaced.
This total is similar to the estimate of the Iraqi Red Crescent Society (IRCS). In its latest report, released in September, the IRCS said there were 282,672 displaced families nationwide (some two million individuals) - a 272 percent increase on its 2006 figures.
Nawroz refused to accept these higher figures for IDPs, saying that his ministry is the only official source for such figures.
Top on the displacement ministry’s list was Baghdad with some 170,000 displaced families; second was Ninawa Province in the north with 15,000 displaced families; and third was Salaheddin Province with just over 14,000 displaced families.